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Trump campaign chief charged in Florida with assault for grabbing reporter

AP/reuters

Florida police have charged Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with simple battery in connection with an incident earlier this month involving a reporter.

Police in Jupiter, Florida, issued Lewandowski a notice Tuesday to appear before a judge on May 4 for the misdemeanor charge. A surveillance video released by the police appears to show Lewandowski grabbing a reporter for Breitbart News as she tried to ask Trump a question during a March 8 campaign event.

The charge carries up to a year in jail.

The Trump campaign said Lewandowski “is absolutely innocent of this charge” in a statement released Tuesday.

“He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court,” said the statement. “He is completely confident that he will be exonerated.”

Trump himself called Lewandowski “a very decent man” on Twitter: “Look at the tapes — nothing there!”

A police report obtained by The Associated Press includes an interview with the reporter, Michelle Fields, who worked for Breitbart News at the time.

“Lewandowski grabbed Fields’ left arm with his right hand causing her to turn and step back,” reads the report. Fields showed police her left forearm, which “appeared to show a grabbing-type injury,” according to the investigating officer.

In the days after the alleged assault, Trump told CNN that the incident was probably “made up.” Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks went further at the time, saying in a statement that “not a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident.”

Lewandowski has retained a Florida attorney, who said Tuesday there would be no further comment.

The incident could fuel attacks by anti-Trump groups, who have already been attacking the New York billionaire for failing to quell violence at his Lewandowski’s arrest is just the latest chapter in a raucous White House race marked by threats, insults and physical confrontations.

Police in Jupiter, Florida, said Lewandowski, 42, intentionally grabbed and bruised the arm of Fields, then a reporter for the conservative news outlet Breitbart, when she tried to question Trump at a campaign event on March 8.

Police released a video of the incident showing Fields walking alongside Trump and trying to question him. Lewandowski is seen grabbing her arm and pulling her backward. Previous videos of the incident had been obscured by people in the crowd.

At the time, Lewandowski called Fields “delusional” and said he never touched her.

Campaign rallies for Trump, the billionaire businessman who leads the race to become the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 presidential election, have been marked by rowdiness and occasional clashes between protesters and supporters or security personnel.

His pugnacious campaign style, which includes personal insults directed at rivals and scathing criticism of protesters, has been criticized for encouraging physical altercations at his rallies.

The real estate mogul leads remaining rivals Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in polls and in the number of delegates to the nominating convention, despite a concerted effort by the Republican establishment to stop him out of fear he will lead the party to defeat in November.

Cruz picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ahead of the state’s primary next week. Walker, who dropped out of the presidential race last year, said he backed Cruz because he was a principled constitutional conservative.

“To me, I’m all in,” Walker said in a radio interview on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, adding he was not endorsing Cruz in an attempt to stop Trump.

“I just fundamentally believe if you look at the facts, if you look at the numbers, that Ted Cruz is in the best position by far to both win the nomination of the Republican Party and to then go on and defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall this year,” Walker said, referring to the Democratic front-runner.

Walker joins a number of other more mainstream Republicans who have backed Cruz as the best alternative to Trump, who has racked up a strong delegate lead but alienated many party leaders with his harsh views on immigration, Muslims and women.

Cruz told reporters while campaigning in Wisconsin that the charges reflected the “abusive” culture of the Trump campaign.

“When you have a campaign that is built on personal insults, attacks and now physical violence, that has no place in our campaign, it has no place in our democracy,” Cruz said.

Kasich’s senior adviser, John Weaver, said on Twitter that “campaigns reflect the character of the candidate and if this person was on our campaign he would have been fired long ago.”

Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told CNN that Lewandowski would “absolutely” stay on the job.

Lewandowski was charged with simple battery, defined under Florida law as intentionally touching or striking a person against their will. For a first offense, it is a misdemeanor in the first degree, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a fine of $1,000.

Jupiter police said Lewandowski turned himself in to police, and he was issued a notice requiring him to appear in court and then released. He was not booked into the jail.

Lewandowski’s lawyer, Scott Richardson of West Palm Beach, Florida, declined comment on whether his client would step down as campaign manager. Lewandowski will also be represented by Kendall Coffey, a Miami lawyer, the campaign said.

Fields resigned from Breitbart less than a week after the incident, citing what she said was the online news outlet’s refusal to stand behind her amid the allegations.